Theres a gold standard in the Boise State football teams tight ends room: Derek Schouman.
He was the Broncos last all-conference tight end, in 2006. He also was the last guy to combine dominant blocking with dynamic receiving.
And as the 2012 season approaches, theres a growing feeling that the Broncos are on the verge of a Schouman-like breakthrough.
Its an exciting time right now for tight ends, tight ends coach Scott Huff said. I dont know if weve got the superstar yet like the Derek Schouman, but weve got some dudes.
That excitement stretches from the senior class with old-school blockers such as Chandler Koch and Dan Paul to the freshman class where Holden Huff and Hayden Plinke have the tools to become all-around tight ends.
As many as seven tight ends, a group that includes fullbacks, could contribute: Koch, Paul, junior Gabe Linehan, sophomore Connor Peters, sophomore Kyle Sosnowski, Huff and Plinke.
Peters, a junior college transfer, and Plinke, a grayshirt who has grown to an imposing 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, are eligible to redshirt but its possible both will play.
Weve got a lot of opportunity to go out and do something special with the tight end group, Koch said.
Tight ends are an essential element of the Broncos offense. They line up as fullbacks, tight ends, wings and even slot receivers. They frequently shift and motion across the formation, too giving them the largest mental burden outside of the quarterback.
Were really the group that tries to confuse the defense and give our offense the best chance of executing our plays, Koch said.
But in recent years, the group has been star-crossed.
One of the teams top tight ends has sustained a serious injury for four straight seasons Chris ONeill (2008), Richie Brockel (2009), Tommy Gallarda (2010) and Paul (2011) which has forced defensive players to make cameos on offense.
That shouldnt be a problem this year with so many viable options at Huffs disposal.
This is probably the most talented group weve had here in a long time from top to bottom, Huff said. Weve got a good mix of some old guys and a really good crew of new guys. What we really would like to have happen is to get some of these guys to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Thats a little bit different than how weve done things in the past, especially of late, when weve gotten so beat up.
Paul, Koch and Peters, if he plays, likely will handle the dirty work. Paul can line up at tight end but primarily plays in the backfield. Koch played fullback last year and looks forward to moving back to the line of scrimmage. Peters transferred from Laney College in California after one season. He was a high school teammate of linebacker Blake Renaud.
Weve got some guys who have been around here a little bit who can set the edge, coach Chris Petersen said.
Linehan, Huff and Plinke bring the big-play dimension to the group. Linehan made 23 catches and scored five touchdowns last season. Huff caught four touchdown passes in one practice during fall camp and Plinke made one of the best plays of the fall scrimmage, a 75-yard touchdown catch on which he bounced off safety Chanceller James and rumbled into the end zone.
Plinke might have the most upside. He was a lightly recruited 230-pound tight end at Glencoe High in Hillsboro, Ore. He sat out the 2011 season as a grayshirt, joined the Broncos in January and has grown to nearly 260 pounds.
You can see that he can run and he can catch and hes definitely bigger than most of the guys we have, Huff said. You can see that were pretty excited about him and why.
And with such talented youth, its easy to understand why the expectations are so high in Huffs meeting room.
Were going to be stout and were going to be very effective, Linehan said, but were always striving to improve our tenacity and fearsome attitude.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat
Editors note: This is the seventh in a series of stories previewing the Boise State football team by position. Coming Saturday: tailbacks.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART, TIGHT ENDS
Gabe Linehan (6-4, 241, jr.) OR Chandler Koch (6-2, 246, sr.): Linehan has six career touchdown catches and is one of the groups best athletes. Koch has eight career catches but is one of the most physical blockers.
Holden Huff (6-5, 213, fr.) OR Hayden Plinke (6-4, 255, fr.) OR Connor Peters (6-4, 253, so.): The three newcomers have coaches and teammates excited about the future of the position. Plinke, a grayshirt, and Peters, a junior college transfer, have redshirt years available.
Dan Paul (6-1, 262, sr.): Paul redshirted last season with a groin injury but started in 2010. He brings a physical presence to the run game and has proven capable as a receiver sneaking out of the backfield.
Koch: He replaced Paul as the primary fullback last season.